News Ticker

TV Review “The Wiz: Live” on NBC

The Wiz has always held a special place on my heart: my dad took me to see The Wiz when it was in its original theatrical release. We loved it so much we went back two more times. When the traveling revival of The Wiz, Directed by Geoffrey Holder, with Stephanie Mills reprising the role of Dorothy, came to the Warner Theater in 1984, my dad got us tickets, front row center, and we got to meet much of the cast afterwards. It was the first DVD I ever bought, and I have watched it nearly as many times as I have watched Star Wars.

Let that sink in for a moment.

So when I heard that NBC was doing last night’s The Wiz: Live, directed by Kenny Leon and starring newcomer Shanice Williams, I was more than a little apprehensive after the unwatchable productions of Peter Pan and The Sound of Music that had been the previous two shows in their ongoing live musical offerings.

Well, there was a lot to like about last night’s production, as it was far better than those other two abominations, and I enjoyed it a great deal. Ms. Williams in the role of Dorothy did a lovely job and was backed by an interesting and talented supporting cast in actors Elijah Kelley as The Scarecrow, rapper/actor Ne-Yo as the Tin Man and comedian David Alan Grier as The Cowardly Lion. Together they made a good balance of talent. Other notable cast members include  Mary J. Blige as Evilene, Uzo Aduba as Glenda, the previously mentioned Stephanie Mills was a standout as Auntie Em, a gender-swapped Wiz in Queen Latifah and the delightful and bubbly Amber Riley as Addapearle.

They all did a fine job for the most part but Stephanie Mills truly out shined everyone in her small part, with all her years of stage experience showing through in a glowing performance. Her voice, hitting every note perfectly in the first song of the show “The Feeling We Once Had”, gave me chills, and set a nearly impossible bar for the rest of the cast to meet. Having seen her live as Dorothy, it is AMAZING that such a big voice comes from that tiny little 4’9″ frame!

The ensemble/chorus was all composed of experienced stage actors and it showed. The choreography by Fatima Robinson, with assistant choreographers Tre Holloway, Charmaine Jordan and Eric Sanchez, was fun and modern with some nice throwbacks here and there to the original film. The stage transitions were all but seamless and the stage production itself gorgeous. The costuming, by designer Paul Tazewell, was stunning, with Glinda’s fiber optic lit dress an accomplishment that will be talked about and copied by costumers/cosplayers everywhere, for years to come. I know a few people that will likely be trying the Tin Man and Cowardly Lion, with make-up effects by husband and wife team Dave and Lou Elsey.  Overall it was successful in putting a slightly modern twist on what has become a classic.

The Wiz was good, though not “great” and below is why:

The Good:

1) Because it was originally a Broadway show and they were working from the original script with some minor adjustments for the changes in slang, and language in general over the past 40 years, the show stands up.

2) They cast a complete unknown as Dorothy (like Stephanie Mills was when she originally created the role) and that allowed for a certain freshness in the role.

3) The production actually used actors with some singing chops (for the most part), or singers with acting chops (again, for the most part), not just names plugged in to draw in viewers.

4) Unlike The Sound of Music or Peter Pan, the music felt more current and the subject matter is more modern.

5) When deciding to add a song and update the script, they did not use their own TV writers (as they did for the previous productions) they turned to Broadway Legend and four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein, who understands what works in a live production, especially in a Broadway Musical.

6) The set and costume designs were amazing.

The Not So Great:

1) Stephanie Mills REALLY should have had a larger role, but since she does not have the “name recognition” among the audience, in general, under a certain age (Millennials, I am looking at you), her talent was wasted as Auntie Em. While “There are no small roles, only small players”, she shined larger than half the “Stars” of the show, as did a few of the chorus who’s voices would have had them front & center in any other production.

2) There were a couple of the actors whose voices or acting skills did not quite live up to the roles they had. Ne-Yo, for example, whose voice was certainly up to the task, is just not that great of an actor and seemed to struggle with the delivery of some lines and awareness of staging. At certain points he seemed to look at the cameras and appeared to read off of cue cards. On the other end is Uzo Aduba, as Glenda, an amazing actress, but her voice was not quite up to the song she sang, “Believe in Yourself” (Reprise).  As I said last night, Lena Horne did it better…

 3) I know this is nit picky, but I felt there were too many commercial breaks and the show would have been served better if they had gotten a sponsor so they could show it “with limited commercial interruption”.
 4) Finally, there were a few small glitches, like when they had to cut away from Addapearle in the Munchkin Villiage when her smoke effect did not go off. This is something that happens in a live stage show that has hundreds of performances sometimes, but this was just one night and should have had fewer flaws of this type.
All that being said, it was a lot of fun and I will watch it a second time this weekend with my 8-year-old son so I can share my love of this wonderful show with him, and hopefully help stoke the passion for musical theater that my father help to instill me.

 

Overall I give The Wiz   4 Silver Slippers out of 5.

About Jonathan "Evilboy" (26 Articles)
Jonathan "Evilboy" Wolk is a married father of one and owner of Used Future Workshop. He makes replica props and displays for costumers and collectors and is a proud member of the 501st Legion. He has been a contributor to Pop Culture Uncovered since 2013.

1 Comment on TV Review “The Wiz: Live” on NBC

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: